While restaurant chains are generally not looked at on the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site, small groups of dining spots are sometimes checked out, especially when they are locally owned and operated. And such is the case with a trio of excellent Venezuelan eateries called Orinoco, which has locations in the South End of Boston, Cambridge's Harvard Square, and Brookline Village. And while none of them seem to be particularly well-known outside of their respective neighborhoods, the location in Brookline Village seems to be a little less known than the others, and is thus the focus of this review.
Located on the northern edge of Brookline Village in an area that doesn't get a ton of foot traffic (especially compared to other parts of town, including Coolidge Corner and Washington Square), Orinoco is quite easy to miss, being one of many businesses that line both sides of Harvard Street--and one that doesn't exactly have prominent signage out front. While the exterior of the restaurant is rather plain, the interior is very charming, with a tin ceiling, rustic hanging lights, old-looking wooden beams, and earthy colors used throughout. A cozy bar can be found by the front entrance, with candlelit booths and tables are placed along the walls and in the center of the room. Much like the original Orinoco in the South End, some of the tables are perhaps a tad too close together, which raises the noise level (and lowers the comfort level) on busy evenings.
As is the case with many South American restaurants in the Boston area (and elsewhere), the menu at Orinoco is rather meat-centric, with beef, pork, lamb, and chicken dishes offered, along with some seafood items as well. A few of the highlights here include a fragrant flatbread with shaved black truffles, garlic, manchego, and arugula; some marvelously rich-tasting shredded beef empanadas; hearty black bean, pork, and palmizulia (a mild white cheese) arepas; a particularly delicious plate called polvorosa de pollo (chicken in a flaky dough with mixed greens); a savory dish called cordero tradicional (pistachio, panela, and plantain crusted New Zealand lamb chops with a bright-tasting mint sauce); and perhaps a signature dish of sorts, the pabellon criollo, which features shredded beef, black beans, white rice, and sweet plantains. Desserts at Orinoco include a sinful molten chocolate cake, while drinks include a variety of beer and wine options, along with a number of different rums and some outstanding mojitos (cocktails and hard liquor are only available at the Brookline location, by the way).
As indicated earlier, it is tough to go wrong with any of the Orinoco locations, but the Brookline one seems just a bit less-known (unless you live in Brookline, of course), and if you are driving, the parking situation at this location is much less frustrating than the other two. But whichever of these Venezuelan dining spots you choose, expect to get a very tasty meal at prices that are quite reasonable.
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